Children at mercy of climate change

via Children at mercy of climate change | The Herald 2 July 2014 by Amy Wickham

Upon being asked during a recent survey of young people on whether or not she understood what climate change meant, a 16-year-old girl from Chimanimani in Manicaland, remarked: “There are strong winds which at times blow off roofs from buildings and houses, so money for school fees is used for reconstruction and survival.”

Another 16-year-old girl from Mbire, Mashonaland Central, remarked: “When there is no food at home due to climate damage, you cannot even talk to parents easily. Sometimes you cannot tell them that you have been sent away from school for non-payment of school fees because of fear of making them angry.”

These sentiments, expressed during a study of the impact of climate change on children conducted last year by the University of Zimbabwe’s Institute for Environmental Studies, suggest two important points.

First, children generally understand how climate change is affecting their wellbeing and, second, that climate change is increasing the vulnerabilities of children.

There is no doubt that children experience the negative effects of climate change.

The regular occurrence of droughts and floods results in food shortages leading to hunger, malnutrition and poverty. As a coping strategy, parents deploy their children to work to earn additional income, sometimes at the expense of the children’s emotional and psychological well-being. It is also not uncommon for parents to marry off their daughters at a young age.

In the University of Zimbabwe study, which was conducted among 1 200 children across the country, droughts and floods were cited as the most serious effects of climate change. Reduced crop yields linked to poor rainfall and floods compromised household food security and environmental degradation multiplied the risk of disease outbreaks.

In trying to cope, families often resort to alternative, and sometimes inappropriate and illegal strategies such as illegally crossing the borders and gold panning. The stress would generally leave the parents edgy and angry with everyone, but especially the children.
What is to be done?

There needs to be a focus on enhancing smallholder farming in dry marginal areas through investments in irrigation so that farmers are not reliant on rain-fed agriculture. This includes not only developing irrigation infrastructure such as boreholes, dams and irrigation pipes, but also providing technical and maintenance back-up as well as organising and managing irrigation schemes. Water harvesting and drip irrigation schemes can also be adopted.

It is important that non-farming livelihood strategies in regions of low agricultural potential are supported because a diverse portfolio of livelihood strategies enhances a household’s resilience to the impact of climate change. Informal employment activities need to be up-graded and formalised. Commercialisation of the informal sector can be enhanced through the development of more small and medium-scale enterprises.

The national social protection system needs to be strengthened to include the principles of responsiveness and resilience to climate change.

In tackling climate change, there is a role for everyone. Understanding the impact as it relates to our communities is the first step of engagement. Deepening our commitment to reducing the negative impact of climate change is the next.

That can mean simple things like considering the environmental impact of consumer items before you buy them, committing to recycling waste, planting trees in our backyards and communities, and opting to use greener energy technologies.

We owe it to our children and future generations! In the words of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon when he addressed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2007, “This is the moral challenge of our generation. Not only are the eyes of the world upon us. More importantly, succeeding generations depend on us. We cannot rob our children of their future.”

  • The author is a Climate Change Officer at UNICEF Zimbabwe. For comments and contributions, please email: